By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – Minister of Water and Irrigation Mohammad Najjar on Monday expressed optimism over the results of a recent trip to build international support for the Jordan Red Sea Project (JRSP).

During his visit to the US last week, Najjar met with representatives from funding agencies, including the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the World Bank, the American government and the US Export-Import Bank, as part of the government’s efforts to secure funding for the $10 billion venture.

Najjar said the visit aimed at informing US officials of Jordan’s critical water situation and the importance of the JRSP as a long-term solution.

The minister said that although it is too early to gauge commitments of financial support for the mega-project, US officials expressed “understanding” for Jordan’s pressing water needs.

The JRSP, to be implemented in five phases, aims to address the country’s severe water shortage by providing 120 million cubic metres (mcm) of water per year in its first phase and expanding to 700mcm annually in later phases.

The first phase entails conveying water from the Red Sea through pipelines to a desalination facility that will be built in Aqaba. Water generated from the plant will be distributed to Aqaba and development projects in the area.

“Many institutions believe that the JRSP contradicts or replaces the World Bank project [Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Programme], but in fact it complements it,” Najjar underscored.

The Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Programme (Red-Dead project) is led by the World Bank and involves three beneficiaries: Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

The project, designed to alleviate pressure on renewable and non-renewable water resources in the region by providing about 850 million cubic metres of potable water annually, entails the construction of a 200-kilometre water conveyor from Aqaba on the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

A study on the project’s feasibility study and an environmental impact assessment were launched in May 2008, followed by three sub-studies. Initial results are expected later this year, while final reports showing the project’s economic, environmental and social feasibility will be announced in 2011.

Najjar stressed that Jordan is moving quickly in designing the JRSP and seeking funds due to its critical water situation.

“The government took the initiative because of its water shortage and the fact that the Dead Sea is in constant decline, which negatively affects investments in its area and threatens an international heritage location,” Najjar said, underlining that the JRSP aims to serve as a starting point for the Red-Dead project once feasibility studies have been completed.

Jordan, which is considered the world’s fourth water poorest country, suffers an annual water deficit of 500mcm and per capita share of water does not exceed 150 cubic metres per year, well below the water poverty line of 500 cubic metres per year.

According to official figures, 91 per cent of Jordan’s total area of 97,000 square kilometres is arid land with an annual rainfall average of 50-200 millimetres (mm), while 2.9 per cent is categorised as semi-arid with an annual rainfall average of 400-580mm.

Available water resources are falling short of the growing demand fuelled by population growth and development needs, according to water officials.